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“Don’t Know Much About History”: Ben Carson’s Woefully False Claim About The Founding Fathers’ Elected Office Experience

Ben Carson is blundering through American history again.

I’ve written before about how Carson’s belief that the Founding Fathers were “citizens statesmen,” one of his favorite defenses of his own neophyte venture in politics, is woefully incorrect. Now the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page has taken up the standard against Carson’s misreading of history.

Per the Journal (h/t Talking Points Memo’s Katherine Krueger), Carson posted on Facebook Wednesday night, “Every signer of the Declaration of Independence had no elected office experience.” The Journal goes on to quote two American historians to say that this is nonsense – “That’s just patently false,” Benjamin Carp, an associate professor of history at Brooklyn College who has written several books on the American Revolution, told the Journal. Carp estimates that most of the signers had held elective office.

Chastened, Carson went back and edited his original Facebook post, changing his assertion to read, “Every signer of the Declaration of Independence had no federal elected office experience.” (Emphasis mine.)

That’s too cute by half and, perhaps not surprisingly, still wrong.

Second point first. Here’s “American Eras” via regarding the first Continental Congress:

Choosing Delegates. Each colony had chosen its delegates to Congress in different ways. In four colonies, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, the assembly chose its delegates to Congress. The Massachusetts assembly made its choices behind locked doors; outside, Governor Gage’s secretary was proclaiming the legislature suspended. In Virginia, when the governor, Lord Dunmore, dissolved the assembly, it had reconvened in a nearby tavern to choose delegates; New York held a general election for delegates; and an open meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, chose that colony’s delegation. In other colonies delegates were selected at provincial conventions that had not been called by the established authorities.

Emphasis is again mine. Of course the Declaration of Independence was proffered by the second Continental Congress, but that session was largely a reconvening of the first after the British Parliament refused to remove the laws about which the first congress had complained.

And Carson is being too cute by half here because while the Continental Congress took on the powers of a federal government over time, it was not technically such when the Declaration of Independence was signed. So in that sense there were no federal elected offices from which the delegates could have gotten experience. But to argue that this validates Carson’s point would be like saying that Yuri Gagarin was an amateur because he had no previous experience in space; or like saying that Neil Armstrong was an amateur because he had never walked on the moon before. Of course the first delegates to the first national legislative assembly had no prior experience getting elected to a federal legislative body (though several had served as delegates to prior, lesser gathering like the Stamp Act Congress of 1765).

But as the Journal observed, they had plenty of elective experience of the variety available to them. So for example, a quick reading of some of the delegates to the Continental Congress shows that Delaware delegate Caesar Rodney continuously held some sort of legislative office from 1758, when he was 30, until his death in 1784; Thomas McKean, also from Delaware, “might just represent an ideal study of how far political engagement can be carried by one man. One can scarcely believe the number of concurrent offices and duties this man performed during the course of his long career,” according to; and Samuel Huntington of Connecticut devoted “nearly all of his life to public office” according to the same source. And so on.

Which only raises this point: If Carson wishes to compare himself in terms of political experience to the delegates of the first Continental Congress, shouldn’t he seek some sort of state legislative office before attempting the presidency?

Perhaps Carson should start playing “Wonderful World” at his rallies; that’s the classic Sam Cooke song which begins, “Don’t know much about history…”

I’ll give Carson one thing: Claiming precedent for one’s own beliefs or actions in those of the Founding Fathers is a classic political move; that Ben Carson is so bad at it just underscores that he is an amateur politician.


By: Robert Schlesinger, Managing Editor for Opinion, U.S. News & World Report, November 6, 2015

November 9, 2015 - Posted by | American History, Ben Carson, Founding Fathers | , , , , , ,

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